fly patterns for the florida keys

Florida Keys Fly Patterns


Everyone wants to know what Florida Keys fly patterns to use. Fly selection can make or break a day of fishing, and that’s where I come in. The truth is there are many different patterns that will work in any given situation. After being a fly fishing guide for some time you inevitably go on the search for a better mouse trap. Fly tying is one of the final frontiers, and a way to gain an edge over the fish and the competition.


Over the years I have spent countless hours experimenting with different materials to come up with original patterns that work. Some Florida Keys tarpon flies just won’t work when tarpon are rolling on the surface. Other flies won’t work when they are 3 feet down in the water column. So I try to design flies for the Florida Keys that are situation specific. Some fly patterns are just a slight variation on a proven concept, while others are completely off the wall. Some of my Florida Keys permit flies are radically different than most other permit fly patterns. I tie 90% of the flies we will be using, and I keep them close to the vest. I won’t be posting them on the internet any time soon. Here are some basic Florida Keys fly patterns that will work in Key West and the Marquesas Keys. Visit Key West fly fishing for information on booking a trip.


Key West Tarpon Flies


Tarpon Toad – This  fly has become a staple everywhere in the world for tarpon. Some tie it with a rabbit strip tail, others with marabou instead. Many like the chartruese color, black and purple or tan and orange. Tie it on a 1/0 Gamakgatsu or Tiemco 600sp hook.


The Gurgler – This is a great topwater fly for KeyWest smaller tarpon as well as jacks. It can be tied in a variety of colors some lifelike others on the wild side. No fly box in Key West is complete without them.


Tarpon Tapas – This is cool sparse little fly pattern for oceanside tarpon in Key West and the Marquesas. It’s subtle look doesn’t seem to wierd out wary ocean tarpon. Many different colors work here but I am a big fan of tan and chartruese. The Finnish raccoon tail is super sexy in the water.


Lemon Drop – This is an old school tarpon fly developed by Steve Huff back in the day. It still works. When tarpon have seen every toad fly under the sun this is a good option. It lands as soft as a butterfly but stings like a bee.



Notes On Key West Tarpon Flies


When considering tarpon flies for the Florida Keys or anywhere else the first thing that comes to mind is hooks. They absolutely must be razor sharp! Tarpon have extremely bony mouths, and a high quality piercing hook is critical. I suggest Gamakatsu Sl12 or Tiemco 600sp hooks.


tarpon toad fly pattern for the Marquesas
Gurgler baby tarpon fly
Oceanside tarpon flies for the Marquesas Keys
Lemon drop tarpon fly for the Marquesas

Key West Permit Flies

Skok Merkin – This is a souped up merkin crab fly designed by Dave Skok. Tan and white seem to be the best choices when fly fishing for permit in Key West. I personally seldom throw a merkin type fly.


Kwan Fly – This fly is basically an attractor pattern for permit, tarpon, and bonefish depending on the weight of the eyes. It works well. Its half crab and half shrimp. How could you go wrong with that?


Secret Squirrel Fly – Did you really think I was going to tell you? The day of your fly fishing trip in Key West I will have you sign a non disclosure agreement. In blood!


Notes On Permit Flies


When choosing permit flies for the Florida Keys you need to have flies that cover the entire water column. Most fly fishing for permit takes place in 2 – 4 feet of water so decent size lead eyes are called for. That being said tailing permit can be in less than a foot so small lead or bead chain is needed.

Merkin crab fly for Key West
Permit flies for fly fishing Key West

Key West Bonefish Flies


Squimp – A simple bonefish pattern that works well in deeper water.  Get it out in front of a bonefish in the Florida Keys, and it’s game over. I have caught a couple nice permit on it too.


Rootbeer Shrimp – Marquesas bonefish love this fly. It’s super simple to tie and it vacuums up every bonefish in it’s path. Add some lead eyes and this fly is redfish candy.


Borski Slider – A great fly for Key West and Lower Keys bonefish. Tan is the most popular color scheme, but chartruese is my go to for redfish, jacks, and a multitude of other flats species in Key West.



Notes On Bonefish Flies



As mentioned before our bonefish like big flies. I like materials that impart a lot of movement when choosing bonefish flies for the Florida Keys. Rabbit strip and artic fox are two of my favorites. Make sure to have an assortment of small lead eyes and bead chain too.


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Key west Bonefish Flies for deep water
bonefish fly for the Florida Keys
Key west Top Bonefish Flies